Zermatt Churchyard by A. G. Butler

 

'C'était une guerre avec le Matterhorn,'
said a Zermatt peasant of the many
attempts to scale this great mountain
They warred with Nature, as of old with gods
The Titans; like the Titans too they fell,
Hurled from the summit of their hopes, and dashed
Sheer down precipitous tremendous crags,
A thousand deaths in one. 'Tis o'er, and we
Who sit at home, and by the peaceful hearth
Read their sad tale, made wise by the event,
May moralize of folly and a thirst
For barren honour, fruitful of no end.
'Tis well: we were not what we are without
That cautious wisdom, and the sober mind
Of prudence, steering calm 'twixt rock and storm.
Yet, too, methinks, we were not what we are
Without that other fiery element—
The love, the thirst for venture, and the scorn
That aught should be too great for mortal powers
That yet one peak in all the skyey throng
Should rise unchallenged with unvanquished snows,
Virgin from the beginning of the world.
Such fire was theirs; O not for fame alone—
That coarser thread in all the finer skein
That draws adventure, oft by vulgar minds
Deemed man's sole aim—but for the high delight
To tread untrodden solitudes, and feel
A sense of power, of fullest freedom, lost
In the loud vale where Man is all in all.
For this they dared too much; nor they alone,
They but the foremost of an Alpine band,
Who in the life of cities pine and pant
For purer air, for peak, and pass, and glen,
With slow majestic glacier, born to-day,
Yet with the trophies of a thousand years
On its scarred bosom, till its icy bonds
It burst, and rush a torrent to the main.
Such sons still hast thou, England; be thou proud
To have them, relics of thy younger age.
Nor murmur if not all at once they take
The care and burden on them. Learn of them!
Youth has its teaching, too, as well as age:
We grow too old too soon; the flaxen head
Of childhood apes experience' hoary crown,
And prudent lisps ungraceful aged saws.
'Tis so: yet here in Zermatt—here beneath
The fatal peak, beside the heaving mound
That bears the black cross with the golden names
Of men, our friends, upon it—here we fain
Would preach a soberer lesson. Forth they went,
Fearless and gay as to a festival,
One clear, cold morn: they climbed the virgin height;
They stood where still the awestruck gazer's eye
Shudders to follow. There a little while
They spake of home, that centre whose wide arms
Hold us where'er we are, in joy, or woe,
 On earth, in air, and far on stormy seas.
Then they turned homeward, yet not to return.
It was a fearful place, and as they crept
Fearfully down the giddy steep, there came
A slip—no more—one little slip, and down
Linked in a living avalanche they fell,
Brothers in hope, in triumph, and in death,
Nor dying were divided. One remained
To tell their story, and to bury them.